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November 2010

Keefe Jackson Quartet
Seeing You See
Clean Feed

Keefe Jackson, a saxophonist and clarinetist, seems to fit in well in his adopted hometown of Chicago, Ill. He’s even recorded several albums for that town’s landmark jazz label, Delmark. And Seeing You See, his first for the Portuguese label Clean Feed, has a crisp, nimble sensibility that touches on two of the Windy City’s most elegant exports.

First, there’s a hint of Clifford Jordan-esque hard-bop in Jackson’s melodies, which he plays in unison with trombonist Jeb Bishop (“Maker”). Second—and most important—is the aesthetic connection that Jackson makes with Chicago’s free-jazz tradition. Jackson is a more conservative player than, say, Roscoe Mitchell or Anthony Braxton—two of the city’s most intrepid saxophonists—but his improvisational efforts display a well-organized logic that owes a lot to the Chicago school (“How-a-low”).

In between heads, the Jackson quartet, which also features bassist Jason Roebke and Noritaka Tanaka, goes out without going too far out. Jackson has a tone that, while occasionally crackling with un-tethered energy, is well rounded and seldom squawky. He is an excellent complement to Bishop, for whom a muted growl is as extreme as it gets. Underlying the brass interplay—which manages to be both bluesy and pointillistic—is a rhythm section that gives the feeling of swing even when unconnected to a regular time signature (“If You Were”). These guys do what seems to come naturally to Chicago-based outfits: They make freedom sound friendly.

Originally published in November 2010
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